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In July 1991, Clarence Thomas, a relatively unknown D.C. Circuit judge, was nominated by President George H.W. Bush to replace Thurgood Marshall on the United States Supreme Court. Thomas soon found out that the only thing more perilous than replacing a historical icon on the Court is replacing a liberal with a conservative.
Thomas would become an icon in his own right for conservatives: an unyielding defender of textualism and conservative jurisprudence. Yet, liberals seem more preoccupied by his race than his rigidity. A leading Democrat, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison recently unleashed another openly racist attack on Thomas and neither the media nor the political establishment condemned the remarks.
Ellison condemned Thomas as a house slave working for white people, analogizing him to the vile character “Stephen,” played by Samuel L. Jackson in the film “Django Unchained.” (Jackson himself called Thomas “Uncle Clarence” after the Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade). Ellison added that, because he disagreed with Thomas’ conservative opinions, the justice is “illegitimate” and “needs to be impeached.”
That is, of course, nonsensical from a constitutional standpoint. However, what was most striking is the response to statements. The racist attack from the top lawyer in the state of Minnesota was not condemned by a single Democrat.
DEMOCRAT COMPARES JUSTICE CLARENCE THOMAS TO HOUSE SLAVE CHARACTER
Not Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, who previously falsely declared that hate speech is not constitutionally protected under the First Amendment and declared himself a champion against bigotry and racist rhetoric.
Not from senior Senator Amy Klobuchar, who has repeatedly denounced racist tropes and rhetoric of Republicans.
Not from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who rightfully condemned the comments of Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville on white nationalism but made no comment on a racist attack of Thomas in the same week.
Not from President Joe Biden, who has repeatedly denounced racial rhetoric and “codes” by Republicans.
Indeed, the day that Ellison’s comments were being aired nationally, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre went to the press room to denounce Robert F. Kennedy Jr. at length for his statements suggesting that COVID-19 may have been engineered to spare Jewish and Chinese people. Jean-Pierre declared that “it is important that we essentially speak out” when such racist or anti-Semitic comments are made, but then made no mention of the racist attack on Thomas as nothing more than a house slave.
Thomas knew that being a conservative black jurist would not be easy when he was nominated for the bench. Thomas replaced Robert Bork on the D.C. Circuit. Bork was also savagely attacked when he was nominated for the Court. Indeed, “borked” is now a term of art for destroying nominees in the confirmation process.
Thomas’ confirmation became a battle royale after Anita Hill accused him of sexual harassment. What followed was famously described by Thomas as “a high tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves, to do for themselves, to have different ideas.”
The attacks on Thomas would never end. His very presence on the Court seemed to disgust liberals who made continual reference to his race. One Democrat legislator on the Georgia Senate floor called him an “Uncle Tom” who “sold his soul to the slave master.”
The Smithsonian’s African American museum even skipped over Thomas in its selection of great African Americans at its opening despite being the second African-American appointed to the highest court. (His Senate confirmation-hearing accuser, Anita Hill, did make the cut.) It was only after a public outcry that the Smithsonian relented to include Thomas.
The media has been unrelenting in its hostile and one-sided coverage of Thomas. While running gushing pieces heralding the backgrounds of liberal justices, there has been a virtual news blackout on Thomas’ amazing life story, one of the truly most inspirational accounts of overcoming every possible obstacle in life.
Thomas was born on the Georgia coast in Pin Point, Georgia and grew up speaking Gullah, the creole dialect. He was raised in a one-room shack with dirt floors, no plumbing, and no dad. When he was eventually sent to a Catholic school, he had to learn to read and write in English. He overcame segregation and prejudice to eventually go to Holy Cross and then was offered admission to Yale, Harvard, and the University of Pennsylvania law schools. He would become the chairman of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 1982, a federal appellate judge, and the second African American to join the Court.
Few of these critics could have walked the path of this man from Pin Point to Capitol Hill. He did so by being his own man — relying on his faith and his intellect to face seemingly insurmountable barriers before him.
Some 32 years ago, Thomas objected to the treatment of an “uppity black” jurist who thinks for himself. Others have made the case for him. For years, commentators have singled out Thomas for his race among the conservative majority. Now, in the face of more raw and racist attacks, the political and media establishment is again silent.
Ironically, the thing that made Stephen hate Django in the movie was that he would not yield to the demands of the white owners. Django defiantly admitted that he was “that one [black man] in ten thousand.” For the liberal establishment, Thomas was a threat because others might emulate him. That is why other black leaders like Sen. Tim Scott from South Carolina have faced continual racist tropes from the left, including a Maryland Delegate Gabriel Acevero stating that “Tim Scott isn’t naive, he’s cooning” to please white people.
The bitter irony is that Thomas is the antithesis of the Stephen character. He has always refused to yield to the demands of others on how he should think as a jurist due to his race.
The attacks are meant to chill others from even considering conservative or libertarian views. Ellison has long valued intimidation as a political weapon. He previously praised the ultra-violent group Antifa as useful to “strike fear in the heart” of Trump and Republicans.
Of course, Django is all about righteous rage as a license for the most extreme actions.
That is why Ellison may have had the right movie, but the wrong character. Call it the Django syndrome. When you are “one in ten thousand” who refuses to yield, you become not simply an annoyance but an obsession.
Editor’s note: This essay first appeared on the author’s blog Res ipsa loquitur – The thing itself speaks.